When we refer to geographical areas, we tend to think of counties or regions, but I am quite clear in my mind that the areas that would benefit most from the power exempting them from the requirements of the minimum wage are those such as objective 5b areas. Large parts of the west country and of the north Pennines will suffer abominably in the next few years, unless the Government take positive action to help them. So far, the Government have shown that they do not understand how rural areas tick.
If we cannot teach the Government how rural areas work, we can at least give them the power to help those areas when they get into severe trouble as a result of more Government bungling, or of a minimum wage set at an inappropriate level. Such a level may work in a booming economy, but it would seriously impinge on rural areas whose economy is suffering.
I urge the Government to accept the new clause. They may not agree with my analysis of the downturn in our economy, or of the severe economic crisis that many rural areas face, but they must recognise that the new clause gives them a power they can use if they wish: the Opposition parties cannot make it happen; the Low Pay Commission is not in the driving seat, and cannot initiate these powers. The Government would decide whether to use this power. If they reject the new clause, it will be purely out of economic and political dogma, and not because they have great belief in the minimum wage.